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Game 8 Results: Offensive Fury

Final Score: Thunder 110, Blazers 108

Thunder Record: 5-3

Stat Leaders:

Points: Westbrook with 36

Rebounds: Westbrook and Ibaka with 7

Assists: Westbrook with 7

This is what is known as, “Filling up the box score.”

Postgame Analysis

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Game 8 Preview: Trailblazers at the Thunder

Game time tip off: 9:30PM EST

Key Players

  • Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook, who both totaled 28 points, 11 rebounds in game 1.
  • Brandon Roy – 19 points in 47 minutes.
  • Marcus Camby – 12 rebounds in game 1.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge – 22 points last game.

Game preview:

In the first matchup between these two teams, the Thunder had once again fallen behind early, looking completely disinterested.  However, they battled back, which I think presented an early season turnaround as to how they expected themselves to perform against the better teams in the league.  Granted, the Thunder struggled against the Celtics.  But in each game, they battled.  Maintaining a competitive nature throughout a game will not always result in wins against elite teams, but against the 2nd and 3rd tier teams, it is a good way to insure a winning record.

I believe there will be two keys to tonight’s game, one controllable, the other not:

  1. Brandon Roy’s knee.
    Roy clocked in 47 minutes during the Blazers’ loss in their first matchup.  Since then, in a loss to the Lakers and a win against the Pistons, he logged 31 and 21 minutes, respectively.  No team seems to be as collectively snake-bitten by the injury monster like the Blazers.   If Roy can’t go tonight or is ineffective, the Blazers will have a difficult time matching up with the Thunder’s offensive output.
  2. Defensive rebounding.
    I am a broken record here, but when a struggling team comes to town, you have to limit their offensive rebounding opportunities.  Second chance points can ruin otherwise good play.  The Blazers have one of the best rebounders in the game in Marcus Camby, and he will likely be matched up against Krstic and Ibaka.  Camby does not present much challenge offensively, so either guy should be able to check him.  Where the challenge comes from though is in keeping him off the boards.  the Blazers have active bodies in Aldridge, Batum, and Fernandez who can capitalize on those second chance points.

I am looking forward to seeing if the Thunder can maintain their early-game focus as they did against the Sixers.  The Sixers win was an imperfect game, but offered good things on which the Thunder can build.

Westbrook will be matched up against the veteran Andre Miller, who has always had a place on the league both for his strong point play as well as his strong afro.  Miller won’t want to play at the breakneck pace that Holiday did on Wednesday, so hopefully it will be a little bit easier for Westbrook to play at a quick but not fast speed.  He had initiated good ball movement last game, and we will look for that to continue.  Remember, he doesn’t need a gaudy stat line to prove that he distributed the ball.  Good passing begets good passing.  Let’s see everyone get into the vibe.

Last notes:

  • It was great to see Sefolosha get some quality contribution against the Sixers.  His offense can be sporadic, but one thing he can always do is play good defense.  In the last game he tallied three steals in his time on the court.  He could absolutely be a defensive stopper type, given his length and quickness.
  • Durant will likely see a rotation of Camby, Batum, and Aldridge thrown at him to limit his touches.  This could present opportunity for Ibaka on the inside.  It would be great to see Durant get some high-low post play going on with Ibaka and Aldrich.  Anything that puts Durant in a scoring position with options is a play worth repeating until it is stopped.
  • I’m still pushing for James Harden to get into the starting lineup to see how he handles himself.  Hopefully he can avoid the fouls this time out and get into a bit better flow.  Regardless, his outside shot is not yet there; I’d like to see him get into the paint a bit more and see how the defense responds.

Prediction: Thunder by 4

11/12 Daily Links

A few links for your palate:

Game 5 Results: Thunder See Red, Finally Charge

Wow, that is one hackneyed post title.

Result: Thunder 107, Trailblazers 106

Stat leaders:

Points: Durant, Westbrook with 28

Rebounds: Camby with 12

Assists: Andre Miller with 11

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

Watching a team compete, even if they lose, is like a breath of fresh air.   Maintaining a winning momentum over the course of 82 games is not easy; even the best and most disciplined teams (Spurs, Lakers) will have letdowns.  But five games in? Game fatigue shouldn’t yet be a problem, which is why I and so many others were concerned about the Thunders’ lackadaisical effort in their loss to the Clippers.   I think it is a simple series of  questions that can be asked thus:

Q: “We just got run out of the building by the Clippers.  Why?”

A: “Because we didn’t play hard enough.”

Q: “Why didn’t we play hard enough?”

The answer, if players are honest, is: “We didn’t think we needed to.”

That is probably why they barely beat the Bulls and then got embarrassed by the Jazz and Clippers.  They were on the cusp of it happening again, but then they started to do the things that teams need to do when they’re playing from behind.

To wit:

  • They cut the deficit to 6 going into the 4th quarter. If they don’t do that, there is no last second heroics.
  • They cranked up defensively, especially on Roy and Aldridge.
  • They eased up on the three point shooting, down to 15 this game.  Durant cut his personal attempts in half, this time making a respectable 2-5.

The Blazers played admirably, especially since they had just lost three key contributors to their team (Oberto, Fernandez, Williams).  Once again the Thunder were not completely focused defensively in the first half, allowing the Blazers to shoot a very high percentage (64%) in the first half.  However, this time the Thunder kept their wits about them and did not roll over, as they had previously done.  After they lost an early seven point lead in the first quarter, The Thunder suddenly found themselves trailing again.  Instead of being demoralized this time, they kept their heads in the game and kept things close going into the fourth quarter.  A six point deficit is easily undone; a 15 point deficit, not so much.

I think that this is the key factor in the win; the fact that the Thunder realized that there come points in every game, no matter who the opponent, where they have to grind.  I immediately think of the winning ways of the Spurs over the past decade.  They have become the masters at grinding; that is, whenever important facets of the team concept are failing, they adjust so that those facets are minimalized and others become the focus so that they gain a relative competitive advantage.

I think this is what I saw the most out of the Thunder in the playoffs last year – the willingness to fight, and you have to be willing to do it – you have to not be afraid to fail.  This factor was as encouraging as anything I’ve seen in the team thus far.  At this point in the season, the win is icing.

Game 5 Preview: Thunder at Portland Trailblazers

Tipoff at 10:30EST

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • The negative numbers that the Thunder are accumulating are kind of staggering.  Lots of turnovers, a terrible shooting percentage, an even worse 3 point shooting percentage…and like I mentioned before, those numbers don’t even tell the whole story.
  • A bigger part of the story is the difference between their team psyche from last year’s playoffs and where it is now.  In fact, I even wrote about it.  If you look at the stats from the Lakers series, what is quite notable is the fact that the team did not play well from a pure numbers standpoint.  Durant wasn’t great, they were still prone to bad shots at times, and ultimately succumbed to a more talented team.  And yet, that team kept fighting in a way this team has not.
  • Take a look at the early season standings.  Aside from the fact that the Thunder are .500, they are also looking up at three teams that will be competing with them for the division.  They have to take their games against Portland, Denver, and Utah more seriously.

What to expect:

After getting burned with my last two predictions, I’m under no illusions this time around.  Portland is a better team playing better ball.  So going into this game, I’m going to be looking for incremental improvements.   Sure, a win would be nice with the Eastern Conference champs coming to town this Sunday, but as for right now, I would really just like to see 4 quarters of solid play.  In fact, I’d like to see one quarter of solid play where the Thunder actually win the quarter.

Thus far, the Thunder have only come out ahead in three of the 16 quarters that they have played.

The key matchup for the Thunder will be Durant locking horns with Portland’s Nicholas Batum.  Batum matches up well against Durant, but perhaps this is the kind of matchup Durant needs to wake up a bit.  He plays the game on a level that seems remarkably easy; maybe a bit of a challenge will help him hone in, in a more deliberate manner.

I’ll also be looking for some semblance of an offense this time out.  The Clippers loss was so revealing because the Thunder displayed zero patience when it came to execution for good shots.  That falls on the coaching and on the PG, Westbrook.   Both Coach Brooks and Westbrook need to be more engaged and disciplined.

My hopes are tempered, but perhaps the Thunder will surprise me.

Prediction: Portland by 8